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Albert Pujols brings fear factor into play

Angels' new slugger is expected to have an effect on hitters all around him. They can't wait for the fastballs.

April 01, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna

Kendrick punishes fastballs and hanging breaking balls, but soft stuff away has given him trouble. Though he doesn't expect to be force-fed fastballs, he predicts pitchers will "attack me differently" with Pujols behind him, and that could result in more hittable pitches.

"The guy in front of Albert should have a better season," said Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched in Milwaukee last season. "Look at [Ryan] Braun and Prince [Fielder]. Ryan was a huge success [for the Brewers] last year, and I think a lot of that had to do with Prince hitting behind him."

If opponents pitch around Pujols, the cleanup batter — Hunter or Kendrys Morales — will have more RBI opportunities and the challenge of not being too eager.

"You have to be careful because when they walk Albert to get to you, you can't think you have to do something Albert would do, like hit a home run," Hunter said. "If you do, you'll probably pop it up. I won't get out of my game."

Pujols said he doesn't think about lineup groupings, keeping his focus on his game plan and a swing that is among the most explosive in the game — compact, precise, consistent in its path to the ball.

"I don't look at who's in front of me or behind me — that's something I've learned," Pujols said. "I focus on what I can do — looking for a pitch and driving it. I take care of my business. Those guys will do their job, which is getting on base, and hopefully I'll do my job, which is driving them in."

The Angels expect to have a deep and powerful lineup with Kendrick, Hunter, Morales, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells surrounding Pujols and the speedy Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos setting the table.

But if opponents pitch around Pujols, the stress of feeling as though they have to retire everyone else could result in more mistake pitches.

"The pitchers are human, they're going to relax somewhere else, so it should make the other guys better," former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon said. "When other guys do damage, the pitchers are worn out when they have to face the middle of the order. It can be a snowball effect."

One the Angels, who ranked 10th in the league in scoring and were shut out a major league-high 50 times through five innings last season, hope will result in a flurry of runs.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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